SDG 4: Quality Education

Education plays an essential role in the journey to Sustainable Development. The Goal’s longer title pleads for inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

It therefore focuses on the acquisition of foundational and higher-order skills at all stages of education and development; greater and more equitable access to quality education at all levels as well as technical and vocational education and training (TVET); and the knowledge, skills and values needed to function well, contribute to society and to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.

In this 21st century over 265 million children are still out of school and 22% of them are of primary school age. Additionally, even the children who are attending schools are lacking basic skills in reading and math.

In the past decade, major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools particularly for women and girls. Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.

The reasons for lack of quality education are due to lack of adequately trained teachers, poor conditions of schools and equity issues related to opportunities provided to rural children.

Despite years of steady growth in enrollment rates, non-proficiency rates remain disturbingly high. Globally, an estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age— more than 55% of the global total—lacked minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics in 2015. Non-proficiency rates are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, where more than 80% of children of primary and lower secondary school age were not proficient in reading.

Children out of primary education

Despite progress, the world failed to meet the MDG of universal primary education by 2015. In 2013, the latest year for which data are available, 59 million children of primary school age and 65 million adolescents of lower secondary age were out of school. Most of them were girls.

Survey data from 63 low- and middle-income countries between 2008 and 2012 show that children of primary school age from the poorest 20% of households were more than four times as likely to be out of school as their richest peers. Children, especially girls, from households headed by someone with less than a primary education were more than four times as likely to be out of school as children from households headed by someone with a secondary or higher education.

Fundamental skills

Quality education should lead to the acquisition of fundamental skills, such as literacy and numeracy, and higher level skills.

The end of lower secondary school often coincides with the end of compulsory education. By this stage, students should be able to master subject-related knowledge and skills, possess personal and social skills and have a solid foundation for further learning throughout life.

Data from 38 countries in the developed regions show that, in the majority of these countries, at least 75% of young people achieved at least minimum proficiency in reading and/or mathematics; the same was true for only 5 of the 22 countries with data in developing regions.

Regarding the issue of Sustainable Development, this set of fundamental skills is surely needed, but a true Education for Sustainable Development, with the final aim of global citizenship, requires a deep understanding that what we do today can have implications on the lives of people and the planet in future. ESD is at the heart of this SDG and also of action programmes led by the UNESCO. An essential part is to include sustainable development issues in the curriculum and make sure that we acquire knowledge, skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

In order to ensure that education creates the highest impact in the lives of all of us, it is vital that children finish at least their primary and secondary education. Again the worst scenarios can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, but I would like to have a look at another region in this case.

I want to invite you to visit Western Asia, specifically the South Caucasus. There we find Armenia, a country which gained its independence from Russia in 1991, but which has its unique and long-standing history, being even the first country to adopt Christian religion.

There the number of children out of school has followed an interesting evolution. In 2017 the percentage of children out of primary education was 7.69%, with a low in the year 2007 of 2.92%. Regarding school enrollment in secondary education the percentage is 83.15%.

Efforts are under way to improve this situation and offer us curious images, of run-down buildings, children with universal T-shirt prints surrounded by poetic landscapes.

Inside an Armenian school

The song Imagine in Armenian

Colours of Armenia